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Those Everlasting Tucks (or Using Good Description)

If, like me, you use your children’s reading experiences to enhance their writing, there is no better book to showcase good description than Tuck Everlasting.  Natalie Babbit tells her tale of a family who accidentally drank from a spring of eternal youth with such eloquence that the story seems to float along on a dry, August wind.

Which is just what she intends.  Writing with intention is one of the best lessons a student can learn, and Tuck Everlasting is one of the best books to illustrate the idea.  Let me give you an example from the prologue:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.  The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autum, but the first week of Autumn is motionless, and hot.  It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color.

Wow.  Sure, we’ve felt that in the first week of August, even noticed it, but how many of us could describe it so vividly in so few words?  I am fascinated by the idea of that week being like the car poised at the top of the Ferris wheel, and the Littles and I discussed it for, oh, about twenty minutes.  It is a rare pleasure for an author to ensconce you so deeply in her setting so quickly.  Just reading and discussing that description can help your student imagine interesting ways to describe things in his own work.  Here’s another, from chapter 9.

The pastures, fields, and scrubby groves they crossed were vigorous with bees, and crickets leapt before them as if each step released a spring and flung them up like pebbles.  But everything else was motionless, dry as a biscuit, on the brink of burning, hoarding final reservoirs of sap, trying to hold out until the rain had returned.

Image result for tuck everlasting images

Can’t you just hear the grass crunching underfoot?  See the swarms of gnats hovering at eye level?  This is what we want to teach our students–to evoke even more images by writing about just a few.  There are lots of way to teach descriptive writing, including lessons on metaphors and similes, using specific, strong words, and, of course, showing and not telling.  But nothing can teach good description better than seeing it in action.

There’s a reason Tuck Everlasting is just as popular today as it was forty years ago.  The idea of living forever is appealing but, as Babbit demonstrates, comes at a price.  The novel helps children understand a little about death and why it is necessary and even about how life should be lived to the fullest because the reality is we have a limited time on Earth.  Guided reading has afforded us with so many conversations that I’m kind of feeling like this is the best book we’ll read this year.  The real reason it’s still so popular and intriguing is that it is so well-written.  The words are beautiful.  It’s as though Babbit took each individual word, stuck it in her mouth, sucked on it, and savored it before putting it to the page.  By doing so, she tells part of the story without words–she puts it in our minds more even than a film would.

If you have a child who struggles writing descriptions, read Tuck Everlasting with her.  Pause every time your heart wells up (and it will) with the amazing feelings evoked by Babbit’s descriptions.  Discuss what she means by her words, how it makes you feel, and see if your student can come up with other colorful ways to phrase the description.  I promise you, it will help.

And, heck, even if I’m wrong, no one should trade the reading of this invaluable book for watching it on film or stage.  There is pure joy in the pages, in the author’s love of language, that just doesn’t translate.

Love wins,

KT

A Fun Read

I have mentioned often our experience with reading Oliver Twist this year. We finished it several weeks ago, and it was an adventure in reading for all of us. Because of the level of difficulty for my Littles (they are, after all, 9 and 12, and Dickens’ language is not that of Rick Riordan. lol), I scheduled a much simpler book to follow it. I say simple because it’s an easy read for their ages, but the layers of Rabbit Hill were complex enough for a variety of lessons.

Robert Lawson wrote this Newberry Award-winning gem in 1944, just after World War II.  It could be considered a precursor to Watership Down by Richard Adams-a rich political novel told from the personification of rabbits.  Rabbit Hill has its own style of politics.  It gave us a view of what it is to live in a place torn apart by war, when food is scarce and everything needs rebuilt, but Lawson tells it from the point of view of Little Georgie the rabbit and a cast of other animals who are looking forward to New Folks (humans) moving into the house on the hill.  It provided an opportunity to discuss WWII a bit, though we aren’t studying that war till next year.  It also gave us ample opportunity to discuss the aftermath of war, the scarcity of food and comforts and the fear that things will never get better.  The book also touches on accepting differences.  We discussed prejudice and how very different our colorful country was in the not-so-distant past.  But my favorite part was the discussion sparked by how the people treat the nature around them.

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Sometimes, in the hustle and bustle of daily life, we forget that we (even city folk) have a deep connection with the natural world.  We get so busy shutting it out we forget that it is an important part of who we are as a species.  Rabbit Hill is one of those books that will remind your children to be kind to animals, to live in harmony with their natural surroundings, and to be careful of the footprint they leave in the world.  It’s an important lesson that cannot be taught enough.

Rabbit Hill would be fun to incorporate into a nature study.  In fact, the study guide I made up involved a lot of nature study activities.  The Littles enjoyed it immensely, and it was a nice break for their brains after Dickens.

What about you?  Do you have any favorite books that teach your children about our responsibility to the environment?  If so, please share them.  I am Always looking for someting new to read.

Missing Out on Mythology

While perusing my many homeschool sources the other day, I read an article that disturbed me.  The author was listing some books she was using in her homeschool and she wrote that she had left one out (she didn’t mention the title) because it was a mythology book that wasn’t Christian-friendly.

I admit, I was a bit confused by this.  What book on mythology could possibly be Christian-friendly? was my first thought.  By definition, mythology books aren’t about Christianity.  They’re about the myths of other religions.  And at one time, the stories in them were considered as factual as we consider the Bible.  I understand completely that some parents might choose to leave certain things out of their curriculum because they are at odds with the family religion. What I don’tgreek arch understand is leaving out such a big chunk of human history because people no longer believe in it.  How is it possible to learn about Greek architecture without learning who all those statues and temples and relief sculptures represent?  How do we learn about Roman sculpture without learning about the religion that often inspired it?

Just as important, we shouldn’t keep our children from knowing these amazing stories.  The reason they have been passed down through hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years are the same as for any good story.  They touch us, they teach us about human nature and human existence, they make us remember we are not alone.  Mythology is a rich part of our past.  Without it, to what can we compare Christianity or any modern religion?  When we don’t know where we have been, our path to where we are going is harder to navigate.  I have said this many times about all types of history, and really, at this point, that’s all mythology is.  History.  It doesn’t have to have a Christian bent.  It just has to teach us something.

I hope you, my dear readers, are secure enough in your beliefs to acknowledge that mythology does indeed have something to teach your children.  Otherwise, they are going to miss out on a lot of really engaging stories that will give you a starting point to teach them so many different things.  I mean, where else will you get the opportunity to say, “This is not what we believe, and here’s why,” without sounding like your arguing Against something instead For something?

Plus, it makesgreen myth teaching about the Greeks and Romans (and even the Celts) so much more fun.  Not for you.  For your littles.  Who just might learn a lesson better from a story than in any other way.

What are your thoughts on teaching mythology in your homeschool?  If you don’t do so for religious reasons, I would love to hear your rationale.  If you do, regardless of your belief system, let me know what made you decide to include it.  Either way, I will continue to include mythology in the Lit Mama Homeschool curricula.  Remember, the world wouldn’t be the same without it.

Love wins,

KT

Oliver’s New Twist

dickens dictionary outside                               dickens dictionary inside

I have extolled the virtues of reading aloud with our children several times in the last couple months. I have even mentioned that the Littles and I are reading Oliver Twist together this year. But today I found yet another reason having a read-aloud class is beneficial.

I fell in love with Charles Dickens when I first read Great Expectations at about the same age as Middle. I remember discovering the decades-old hardcover in the middle school library, but I don’t remember what in me made me decide to pick it up and check it out. I think, at the time, I was fascinated by the old cloth and thread binding of such books. I didn’t know what Great Expectations was about and if I had heard of Dickens before it was through seeing different versions of A Christmas Carol on film.  Even so, from the moment I opened the first page, I was hooked.  Ensconced.  Enraptured.  I have read a Dickens novel every year since, at Christmastime, which seems like a fitting time to dive into the world of mid-1800s England and lose myself among such brilliantly written pages.  I know more about the British government and the plight of the poor and Victorian England than I really need to.  And I never tire of it.   And reading Dickens is always like slipping into a warm blanket with an even warmer cup of coffee.

So I wanted my Littles to know that feeling.  Last year, when they were in 3rd & 5th grade, we read A Christmas Carol and made the dictionary pictured above (it is actually quite long, because if there’s one basic thing any reader can take away from Dickens, it is one kick-butt vocabulary).  They understood it! and enjoyed it so much that I decided to read my Christmas Dickens with them from now on.  Oliver Twist has 50-plus chapters, and since we read a chapter a day, we had to start early to make sure we were reading it for Christmas.  We’ve now been reading for 4 weeks—finished chapter 20 today—and the Dickens Dictionary has grown exponentially in that time.  But today—oh, I do love when something new comes from reading literature—Middle was reading aloud (they alternate pages) and he read this line:

The latter recognition was uttered with just enough embarrassment to imply a doubt of its reception..;

Except he read imply like it rhymed with simply.  A reasonable mistake.   I was thrown back to the years (about 10 of them, to my reckoning) after I first read the word vehement.  Probably in a Dickens novel when I was close to Middle’s age.  I pronounced it vee-hem-ent rather than ve-a-ment.  For 10 years.  At least.  And when someone corrected me, he did it in front of a crowd of people.  He thought I had called him a behemoth.  It was super embarrassing.  So immediately upon hearing Middle’s mispronunciation, I gave him a gentle smile and kindly told him how to pronounce imply.  And tucked it into the teacher file in my head to watch for such easily mispronounced words and make sure both Littles know how to say them right.  To save them any embarrassment in their twenties.

See, having a well-read mind automatically brings a great vocabulary into one’s life.  Being well-spoken is something we have to learn.

What about you?  Have you come across a new learning tool when reading aloud with your little ones?  If so, I’d love to hear about it.

Love wins,

KT